Preserving our hedgerows

Hedge at Swan Barn Farm

Over the last 70 years Britain has lost huge swathes of hedgerows as a result of agricultural intensification. In a bid to produce more food, hedgerows were ripped out so fields could become larger and more “efficient” for farming. Many hedgerows which have been spared removal have simply been neglected, becoming gappy lines of mature trees.

Part of our land management includes planting new hedgerows or laying old ones, giving more space for nature. Our hedgerows are planted with a mix of native tree species, providing habitat and foraging sites for many species of birds, mammals, butterflies and other insects. They also provide a very important navigational feature, acting as corridors by which animals can move through the landscape.

Hedgelaying completed
Hedgelaying completed

Hedge-laying is a traditional craft with a rich history. The practice is in danger of being lost as the axe and billhook, the traditional tools of hedge laying,  are replaced by the mechanical flail. Here at Swan Barn Farm we are doing our bit to help preserve this ancient skill by practicing it and teaching our long term volunteers the skill. Historically, most hedges were maintained by farmers for livestock control, in a time before the use of convenient wire fencing. A range of unique regional styles formed to meet the needs of local farmers, for example, the rounded Powys hedge of Wales, designed to shed snow.

How a hedge is laid

Starting at one end of the hedge, a cut is made towards the base of a tree stem, removing a large amount of material from the middle of the stem, leaving enough material for the stem or ‘pleacher’ to be laid at a desired angle and transporting tissues for the tree to live on.

mulitple pleaches on laid hedge
View of mulitple pleaches while hedgelaying

To provide stability and an aesthetically pleasing finish to the hedge, stakesand binders are added. Stakes are wooden poles driven into the ground. The trees are woven between them to provide rigidity. Finally, the hedge is finished with long thin pieces of wood called binders, which are woven between the stakes. We produce our own stakes and binders from our local woodlands which are managed as part of a coppice rotation.

Rangers weaving binders to secure laid hedge
Rangers weaving binders to secure laid hedge

Once finished, the hedge should be stock proof and will stand for several years before it needs laying again.